Monday, November 27, 2006

Little Bird

“I am getting better, aren’t I?” she asks repeatedly.
“Yes, yes of course,” I reassure her, taking in the puffy bags under the eyes and the frail body, trying not to cry with her. Camille is out of danger, her tumor is not growing, is unlikely to metastasize, and she should be on the road to recovery. Should be, except that in the weeks, months now, since her surgery her progress has been slow. In the first weeks she sat flapping her arms to a yoga video while I took on the full aerobic “warrior” sequence, until we both collapsed in laughter. She took short walks to the top of the hill where the Chavez Ravine drops away into the dusty tops of palm trees. We went to the beach, where she sat on a sun bed until the October sun slanted low across the ocean. The scar at her hairline is just a pink patch as if she had been reading with her head propped on her hand. But something is wrong. Something defies every empirical reason for hope by the very weight of its presence.
“Do you think you could prepare the salmon?” she asks. I jump up from my computer, suppressing a slight irritation at the chatelaine that comes out in her every now and then. So much for writing my report. Fortunately, one of my more recent culinary adventures (they number about two a year) was poaching salmon. This time I was prepared, once set in motion, sprinkling dill and chopping cucumbers for all I was worth, a blizzard in the kitchen, emptying the dishwasher with my feet, opening cupboards with my nose, closing the refrigerator door with my behind, dazzling myself with my speed and efficiency, until, voila! Poached salmon on a bed of herb greens with a white balsamic vinaigrette. “You should be a chef,” said Camille when I brought it out to her in the garden. Wait until she sees the wrecked kitchen, I thought. That’s how I’ll spend the afternoon of not writing my report.
We sit in the mild sunshine, the leafy bamboo canes clacking against each other with the sounds of a village cricket match. She prods at the scraps of salmon with her fork, both of us interested in the plate, neither of us remotely concerned with eating. Her other hand is clasped to her clavicle, kneading. I know that feeling, that welling, choking feeling that lives right there: It is a sentry that will not permit any color to pass into the heart or any clarity to filter into the brain. It sits right there, pressing down, eliciting great sighs as we try to breathe through it, squeezing up fountains of tears and the wide cat yawn of high-pitched misery.
“It’s normal,” I say, stealing the favorite French expression. “You are probably just processing all the trauma, the fear surrounding your diagnosis. At first you were insulated by shock, but it’s natural that you would have to work through it, cry your way through to the other side.” “It’s probably the meds, it’s such a tricky business getting the right balance.” Or, “You are probably feeling the strain of both you and Steven needing support and being unable to provide it to each other.”
“Thank you,” she says, as I offer each rational explanation, then sighs a big sigh. The sighs continue as I bring order to the kitchen, put on a load of laundry, and pack up my bag. I leave to pick up the boys, her sighs echoing in my ears; my last view is the back of her head in a round chair, burgundy cushions rising to cradle her, a broken little bird.

© Copyright Louise Godbold

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